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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #010

Editorial

During the span of this chronicle my Mum died. She'd been sick for a long time so the news wasn't unexpected, but somehow that didn't help.

I suppose I went through all the usual emotions, including the "I should have been there" and "maybe if we weren't living on the road I would have been there" guilt trips.

But if I was still working I would have been lucky to get any time off at all, as it was our new lifestyle allowed me to spend nearly two months with my Mum and Dad not long ago.

Try getting two months off work to stay with your sick Mum, you'd be pushing to get a week or two's compassionate leave for the funeral.

So I can thank our lifestyle for letting me spend time with my Mum before she died.

Goodbye Mum, we all loved you, I loved you, and still do.

 

Pen and ink drawing by Winona Gray.
19 January 1921 - 11 July 2002

 

 

Mon 24 Jun 2002

I need to have some sewing done on a camera bag so ride to a camping store to ask who fixes their back packs. They send me around the corner but the lady who does the sewing is away and the owner recommends yet another place and points to their business card pinned to a cork board.

I write down the phone number and the address in Wedd St, Stuart Park. I ring the fellow to confirm that he can do the work, no problems. He tells me how to get to his workshop but I don't take that much notice, after all I have the address.

I hit the road with map in hand and camera bag on shoulder. Before long I consult the map, there's no Wedd St in the index! There is however a Wedder St so I reason that I must have misread the name, maybe the end of the word Wedder was covered by a thumbtack or something.

So I ride to Wedder St, nothing doing here, it's just a suburban street, although I do check each house as sometimes these small businesses are located under the owner's home.

Now what? I do have my phone and could ring again but I would look like a bit of a prat so I try to recall the instructions. Something about "down the highway...Mitsubishi dealer...Tint-a-car workshop", oh well let's ride down the highway and see what pops up.

It's not before I'm almost into the CBD when I spot a Tint-a-car business, I do a U-turn and, sure enough, the side street is called Wedd.

Now is it just me, or does everyone have problems with errors and/or omissions in maps. In this case it was a very small road, and not a comprehensive map, but when we were in Brisbane the map we had there didn't even show Morton Bay Rd, a four-lane major arterial!

Sun 23 Jun

I ride to the famous Mindil Beach markets but it's Sunday and apparently it's the Thursday market that is massive. As it was there was not many stalls and I was less than impressed.

Also I think I'm a bit "marketed out". I spent four years selling photos every weekend at a market in Canberra and, although I enjoyed the experience, I've pretty much had a gut full of markets.

I continue on to have dinner with friends who live in a great apartment on the seventh floor overlooking the beach.

There's others at the dinner party. One couple just flew in from one of the islands in The Gulf with their own plane. Another fellow used to be a policeman in Arhnem Land and now owns a gallery here in town, and another owned a company that provided expensive shooting safaris on the Coburg Peninsula. There was no shortage of things to talk about.

Wed 26 Jun

We ride down to Howard Springs to my cousins' house, then it's into their 4x4 and out on the Gunn Point Rd for a tour of their property.

We've got a cut lunch because the property is pretty large so the tour will take a while. When I say large I mean it, about 600 square kilometres, not massive by Australian standards but still pretty big. It's got Adelaide River frontage, billabongs, buffaloes, crocodiles, the lot.

We meet some crabbers who live on the river in pretty rough camps. We sit and talk for a while and I get a small inside into the lifestyle, there's not as many crabs as there used to be, can't catch any Barra these days, Tom got into a fight with one of the members of the neighbouring camp, Tom was "asked to leave".

One of these guys is actually the son of a wealthy family in Darwin, but he chooses this lifestyle.

As we leave they they give us a few mud crabs.

On our way back out on the track to the main road we see a 4x4 coming our way so my cousin stops them to see why they are on his property. It turns out they are customs officers on a "training exercise". The Adelaide river is well placed for smuggling, so we think there was more to the training exercise than they were prepared to let on.

Thu 27 Jun

We're supposed to check out today but cannot decide where to go...so we paid for another week.

We have both been having a major slack attack lately, each day we say that we should go and see something then decide not to bother. It seems that we had a goal to get to Darwin that, once achieved, left us with no idea what to do next.

Maybe tomorrow we'll go and see something.

Sun 30 Jun

Our German neighbours have been having spark plug problems and I've been loaning them some tools to replace their old plugs.

When they return the tools I ask how it went and he said that the motor was not running well and he "would haff to get a mechanic".

"Did you replace the leads in the correct order?" I ask, he said yes and that the leads were of lengths that made in difficult to replace them incorrectly. We decided to have another look anyway.

Sure enough the front two leads could not be swapped because of the lengths but the rear two could. I suggest that he swap them, which he did, and the motor runs just fine.

Mon 1 Jul

We noticed a leak in one of the water tanks a week or so back so today I thought I'd check out the problem. I remove the offending tank (I can remove any tank in about ten minutes) and find a cracked weld.


Some people have slideout lounge rooms, we have slideout water tanks

I was never very happy with the job the tank makers did even though I approached several manufacturers and thought I chose the best one. The mob I selected weren't cheap, they asked all the right questions about how the tank is being mounted etc., and appeared to know what they were doing, but on our very first trip the baffle fell out of one of the tanks.

An now a weld has split. I get a local welder to come out to the park and pick up the tank.

Wed 3 Jul

It's web site upload time so I need to borrow a phone line. Fortunately we have friends in Darwin who can do without a phone for a couple of hours.

While uploading the new material for the site my friend and I try to organise a bushwalk. The trouble is that we have totally different modus operandi, Matt has a full diary and has to nail down the exact days for the walk, I don't have a diary and refuse to be nailed down at all.

We still haven't resolved the problem.

Thu 4 Jul

We still don't want to leave, so book for yet another week.

I've been hanging around the Nightcliff Pier lately and getting some good sunset photos.


The cliffs at Nightcliff.


Sunset and the Nightcliff pier (some weird colours that I seem unable to correct, but you get the idea)

Fri 5 Jul

I ride around the dock area looking for photos. On seeing some promising subjects I get off the bike and wander around with my tripod.

A woman from one of the trawlers approaches, her demeanour is a bit surly but as she gets closer her expression softens.

"Oh", she says, "I thought you were carrying some bolt cutters and wondered what you were up to". We chat for a while, she is the cook on a pearling boat, they leave tomorrow for 2-3 months at sea.


The "Wayward Bound" is re-enacting Matthew Flinders trip around Australia.


Derelict boat rests on the mud flats at low tide

Sat 6 Jul

There's a fire close to the caravan park so I go to have a look. I see hundreds of hawks circling the flames, presumably looking for the unfortunate animals that are forced to break cover.


Hawks circle the fire

Mon 8 Jul

A hydraulic line connection failed again, at least I'm now aware of the different sound when it happens and don't continue to activate the ram and flood the storage bin with fluid.

This time I strip the nut while replacing it but I know exactly where to go for a new fitting, we've been here too long.

Thu 11 Jul

At 4PM I feel the urge to sit out on the deck, read a bit about the life of Ansel Adams and generally contemplate the world over a beer.

At 5PM I receive a phone call that I've been half expecting, but not wanting.

My Mum died an hour ago.

I go for a long walk down to the beach and sit on the sand listening to the surf.

Fri 12 Jul

We will not be going to the funeral, it's very expensive to fly down to Bundeburg, but also my Dad seems to be handling things OK and he has a lot of support from friends and other family members.

We decide it would be better for him to come up to Darwin to get away from things a bit.

Meanwhile life must go on and we plan to leave the park today. By the time we do a spring clean, remove the debris from the roof (three weeks parked next to a tree) and generally pack up, it's after 12 when we finally leave the caravan park.

We drive to Winnellie to visit Richie, a fellow motorhomer who has a large workshop. I change the engine oil, swap the front wheels around to spread some uneven wear and grease the front end while the wheels are off and things are easier to get to.

We have a dinner date with other friends at seven and it's 6:30 by the time we leave Richie's, just enough time to move the truck into a vacant lot in town and get cleaned up.

Sat 13 Jul

We haven't been moved on (even though the police have been passed), can't get fuel from the depot until Monday and this is a nice spot overlooking Mindil Beach, so we decide to stay.

I spend most of the day with Matt, a photographer I know from Canberra who now lives in Darwin. It's good to be able to talk about photography again.


The docks on Darwin Harbour.

Mon 15 Jul

We have a late start then I spend some time again with Matt trying to figure out some nuances of the MacIntosh operating system.

After lunch we head out of town, buy fuel and more food then drive into Howard Springs to spend the evening with my relatives.

Tue 16 Jul

We spend the morning in Palmerston doing some more food shopping then hit the road and pull into the Manton Dam rest area once again.

Wed 17 Jul

We drive five kilometres south and turn into the Manton Dam Recreation Area. Not a bad spot to spend the day but we can't get the truck very close to the water so only stay for a coffee break then head off to see what Lake Bennett is like.

Lake Bennett is quite nice as it turns out but there are no public facilities, the resort appears to have the lakeside sewn up so we decide not to hang around and head straight for Litchfield National Park.

At about 4PM, after a quick tour of the quaint little town of Batchelor, we enter the park and pull into the Florence Falls 2WD camp ground. There is another campground called the 4WD Campground but the road in there is too tight for the truck.

As it was we had to walk around the 2WD area to find a large enough spot. Some campers suggest a spot next to them as being large enough but I tell them that I doubt I could fit between the surrounding boulders. When they look a bit perplexed (there's plenty of room for normal vehicles) I say "You'll see why in a minute".

A minute passed and I return with the truck, the girls I had just talked to just sat with their mouths open.

We settle in and do a walk to the falls, it's jam packed with people, mostly swimming, but I see some promising compositions and will be back first thing in the morning, before the crowds and full sunlight.

Thu 18 Jul

Up before dawn and down to the falls with the field camera. Got a promising image or two.


Interesting rock at the plunge pool, Florence Falls

Later in the morning I went scouting for photos, firstly to the magnetic termite mounds and then to the Lost City.

The termite mounds are quite interesting but the official viewing platform has about the most boring view of them imaginable. This doesn't seem to deter the throngs of tourist firing their cameras but it's not for me. I ride a way down the road and walk into the bush to find some more interesting views.

I spot some possibilities and will return later. Then I ride to the Lost City and get to play "ranger for a day", well half an hour at least.

As I ride along the rough sandy track to the peculiar rock formations that make up the Lost City I am so intent on staying upright on the bike that I don't notice the change in the air.

Eventually I do get a whiff of smoke and look around to see that, in all directions, there is a definite blue haze that denotes the presence of a fire. Come to think of it it's not as sunny as it was, I look up to see the sun struggling to shine through a light brown cloud cover. That's not cloud I think.

Anyway the track is now leading away from the smoke so I continue.

After ten minutes or so looking around the rocks I return to the car park to see that all the other vehicles have gone. Hmmm. I quickly climb onto the bike and head back along the track.

Within a few minutes I encounter two ranger vehicles with fire fighting equipment very sooty looking occupants.

"Got a fire on your hands?" I asked, always quick to sum up a situation no matter how subtle the clues.

They did, apparently it was under control yesterday but got away in the high winds we had this morning. "Anyone else down there?" they ask, "we're evacuating the area". I tell them I was the last and volunteer to turn anybody around that I encounter on the track and close the gate at the main road.

So for about half an hour I was Ranger Rob, turning people around and sounding very authoritative about the fire. As it happens I often do get mistaken for a ranger, probably because I wear kaki work clothes and walking boots.

Fri 19 Jul

I met the local goanna today, a big fellow, about six feet long. He seems to do the rounds of the campground looking for any carelessly placed food.

He walks right under the truck then heads over towards a couple setting up camp.

I return to my business and after a while start thinking that, by now, the goanna should be about where the couple were erecting their tent.

Eeeeeeeeeee.

Yep, I reckon he's there.

This afternoon I return to the termite mounds, I tried to get some photos yesterday but came up with nothing so thought I'd have another go.

This time I do get some nice images.


The magnetic termite mounds.

Sat 20 Jul

More photography down at the creek...


A rock in the creek at Florence Falls

...then I go to investigate the situation at Wangi Falls, 32 kilometres away.

As I'm riding out through the campground I notice that the goanna is causing a bit of a stir among some foreign tourists.

I stop to watch and one of them asks "What to you call this?". Are you kidding?, what do I call a six-foot goanna? "Sir" I responded, but I don't think he got it.

I continue to Wangi and was impressed by the size of the falls, it was not obvious from the photos I had seen. I was less impressed with the number of people there, still it is school holidays and a weekend.

I finally get to put another of my theories into practice today and am pleased to report that it works fine.

When I installed the new fuel tanks I decided to keep the original 100ltr tank as petrol storage for the bikes and generator. My reason being that we could easily be out of town for weeks and would run out of fuel for the bikes as they only have about a 250k range.

I also installed a fuel pump and plumbed it into the original fuel pickup on the tank.

Well I've been doing a lot of miles lately around the park and there's nowhere to fill up here so my bike is on reserve.

So today, before heading of to Wangi Falls, I stuck the hose into the bike's petrol tank, turned on the pump, and by the time I'd generally sorted myself out and was ready to go, the tank was full.

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Sun 21 Jul

We plan to shift camp to Wangi Falls today but I want another try at some photos here so I spend an hour or two down at Florence Falls.

When I return I notice that Chris is outside showing the truck's photo album to a couple. This is unusual in itself because she's pretty sick of answering questions about the truck.

I rock up just as the questions start getting technical and help her out. The couple are from Nottingham (near where Chris grew up) and we get on well.

We chatted for ages then realise it's after lunch. I don't like late starts so we decide to stay another night. After all, if you meet some people you like, and are enjoying yourself, what's the point in moving on. Wangi Falls will still be there tomorrow, and probably less crowded.

Mon 22 Jul

Wrong! Well half wrong, Wangi Falls is still there, but it's just as crowded as yesterday. We find a camping bay and, with some ado, manage to install the truck. You're supposed to share camping bays here but when we drop the deck down there's precious little room for another vehicle to enter the bay.

We relax for the rest of the day then, while having an evening beer on the deck, notice our Nottingham friends (Terry & Katrina) arriving at the campground, there's no spaces left so we suggest that we raise the deck to let them drive their van through and share our bay.

As it turns out it's not necessary to raise the deck, they just drive straight under it.

Tue 23 Jul

Up for an early morning walk to the top of the falls then we spend the day swimming and snorkelling in the lake at the bottom of the falls, and exploring other parts of the park on a motor bike.

Wangi Falls is a marvellous (albeit crowded) spot, the aforementioned lake is crystal clear with a large shallow sandy area and the rest being quite deep. It's quite magic to float around wearing a snorkel, watching the fish and interesting piles of logs and general detritus on the lake floor.


The pandanus rimmed lake at Wangi Falls, a magic spot.


Dinghy tied up in the bushes at Wangi Falls.

There's no crocs here because the area is constantly managed but the sight of a log on the lake floor still gives me a bit of a start.


Cathedral termite mounds

Wed 24 Jul

We leave Wangi and drive all of five kilometres to a spot we'd heard about. It's near Pethericks Rainforest, right on the border of, but outside, the park so camping fees don't apply.

Apparently it was a private campground that closed because of fire or something. There's almost no facilities but also no people, a thermal spring, cascades, creeks etc. A great spot and within easy reach of the park's other main attractions.


A pleasant campsite near Pethericks Rainforest.


The campsite is outside the park, but only by metres.


The dunnies leave something to be desired, still serviceable though

Thu 25 Jul

Terry & Katrina leave today, heading for Darwin to get supplies. We'll stay behind until tomorrow but will miss their company. That's the down side of making new friends on the road, you're invariably going different directions and have to part.

Sat 27 Jul

We return to Palmerston to meet my Dad who's coming up from Bundaberg on the bus.

I specifically wanted to be at the terminal when he arrived but as luck would have it, the bus is early and I'm late. As I run up the road it breaks my heart to see my old Dad sitting all alone in the empty terminal.

Wed 7 Aug

Today we plan to return to Litchfield National Park to show my Dad the sights.

We've got cold drinks, lunches, cameras, the lot; everything a good tourist needs to "do Litchfield" in a day. At about 8AM we head off, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

We decide to go the top way through Berry Springs and down the dirt road, and the plan works well. For a while.

We visit Darwin Dam and find an interesting ex-railway with no rails and a bridge that goes nowhere.

Then we head down the dirt road towards the park.

After about 20k we encounter a fence running along the road and, affixed to this fence, are warning signs, hundreds of them, every few metres. Not being quite able to read the signs from the road I stop and investigate.

The signs tell, in various ways, that the area on the other side of the fence is a live fire zone for the Army. Regular "booms" in the distance re-enforced the message in a way that no signwriter can.

Interesting, but not very.

I return to the car, hop in, and depress the clutch, WHOMF, straight to the floor goes the pedal.

Not good, probably a bit low on fluid, I'll just pump it a few times to build up some pressure.

WHOMF, WHOMF, WHOMF, still no pressure.

Ooooh, really not good, let's have a look.

I get out and check under the vehicle, bloody hell there's liquid spewing out. I run to the other side, dip a finger into the damp dust and take a whiff. No problems, just water from the air conditioner.

Next I check the clutch reservoir. It's dry, silly bugger, I didn't check it before we left, so now what?

The brake reservoir is full, so all I have to do is transfer some across. But with what?, there's no tubing in the vehicle. But the battery handles are made of nylon rope with a piece of vinyl hose to save you from cutting your hands to shreds as you lift the battery.

I remove the hose and, by dipping it into one reservoir and holding my thumb over the top of the hose, I transfer fluid from one to the other.

After a while I get Chris to pump the clutch and, sure enough, the level goes down. Good, we're bleeding the air from the lines.

This process continues until I can't get any more fluid from the brakes, but rather than analyse why I'm using so much fluid I start to remove a fuel line so I can use some diesel.

At this time a couple of 4x4s stop to help.

We explain the problem and a couple of us look under the engine again. We could see the wet earth but I explained that it was caused by condensation from the air conditioner, and, as if to back me up some drips broke free from the drain pipe, which is situated right next to the clutch slave cylinder.

We ask Chris to pump the pedal once more and fluid gushes from the slave cylinder. Oops.

There's obviously no point continuing to put brake fluid, diesel or anything else into the lines. So now what.

Fortunately I've driven a Toyota before with no clutch, last time it was for fun, this time hopefully it will get us home.

The technique is not that difficult. You have to start with the vehicle in gear then, as the revs increase, back off and drop the gearbox into neutral. Then, while applying pressure to the stick in the direction of the next gear, slowly bring the revs up. At some point the speeds of the cogs will match and gear lever will drop into gear.

Changing down is a similar process.

Our trip was aborted but to return we have to turn around. I start in reverse and back around 90 degrees, stop, then start in first to complete a three point turn.

The rest of the trip home goes smoothly, we are fortunate with the traffic lights and placement of vehicles at various intersections.

By the time we pulled into the drive I was wondering why cars bother with clutches :-)

Mon 12 Aug

I've got a small job designing a web site for a local photographer, so today it's off to work.

I spend most of the week designing the site and teaching it's new owner how to continue my good work.

I enjoyed the task (and the money didn't do any harm either) but came away being decidedly unimpressed with Apple computers. OK I know I'm a PC user but some of the ways the Apple presented file dialogues, didn't handle missing drivers, and forced you to use menus at the top of the screen because the mouse only has one button (ONE BUTTON! come on Apple, get with the 21st century), leave me wondering why people rave about them.

Wed 21 Aug

We'll be leaving in a day or two so it's time to service the truck and do a few jobs of the maintenance kind.

Trixie (the family dog) is keen to help, always ready with a wet tongue to cool my face down when I roll over under the truck, willing to sit on things that need to be put away, and prepared (under duress) to move out of the way to allow me access to a grease nipple or an oil filler plug.

She seems to have taken a shine to us in the few weeks we've been here, and has dug some new dust wallows around the truck so she can guard us all night.

One such night, at about midnight, I heard her barking just outside the truck. Nothing unusual there, she's always protecting us from some hidden danger, but this time her voice had a hysterical tone to it that I recognised from descriptions as her "snake" voice.

I investigate and, sure enough, she's bailed up a large python. Normally the attendant human in these circumstances will kill the snake but I was happy to let it be, unfortunately it refused to leave so Trixie had to bark at it for over an hour.

Fri 23 Aug

It's two months almost to the day since we hit Darwin. I'm one of those "home is where the hat is" types, if I'm comfortable then I'm happy to stay and I settle in for ages (ask anybody I've stayed with :-). But after a while I start to get a bit stir crazy and feel the call of the wild, or at least the call of the highway.

We leave my cousins, Laurence and Marian, and my Dad. I am particularly sad to leave my Dad, he was run down on arriving in Darwin but has picked up a lot since then and seems quite perky now. We plan to meet up again in Perth.

We take on a little fuel at Coolalinga then mosey on down to our old favourite campsite, Manton Dam.

Our Darwin experience is done.

 

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